There are three ways to deliver a statement. You can write it down, announce it in a speech or go out and beat the Patriots.
We are once again on the eve of another HUGE Colts-Patriots showdown and if there was ever a week to deliver a loud empathic statement this is it. No need for twitter or locker room proclamations. The Colts just need to get healthy, go about their business and do it on the field. They know this weekend is their chance to continue their recent dominance in the series and make it 6 wins in the last 7 tries. They also know it won't be easy.
Some things in sports never change. Lebron always come up short in the playoffs, the Yankees always steal your favorite player, you're reminded that hockey is played in June and then ask why and even with all the parity, the Patriots always manage to be the class of the AFC. Yet unlike the previous seasons we spoiled fans are accustomed to (in four of the past five seasons the Colts have been undefeated entering the game with records of 7-0 or better) there is much more than bragging rights and pride at stake in this week 11 matchup.
At 6-3 the Colts are barely outpacing the rest of the league making this game more important than previous years (remembering back to years past that somehow doesn't feel possible). A win and the Colts are back in the driver's seat in terms of returning to the playoffs and even securing a bye. A loss and the Colts are suddenly thrown into a frenetic dogfight with half a dozen teams scraping and clawing for the 2 wildcard spots.
Considering all the injuries the Colts have battled, 6-3 is very commendable. Factor in that the Colts lost one of those games on a 59-yard (insert curse word you screamed here) FG and had the ball and a minute remaining on the clock to beat the Eagles (try and find an Eagles fan that wasn't panicking) and 6-3 is almost unlucky.
Still, the Patriots will present the toughest challenge the Colts have seen all season, which in some regards seems a little strange this year. The Pats don't have Ochocino or Terrell Owens. They don't have a Chris Johnson nor do they have a Dallas Clark (dare I say Jacob Tamme). In fact, I bet a passive football fan (nobody on this blog of course) would be hard pressed to name more than six starters total and that is being generous. Rather, the Patriots' success is defined by what they don't have: attention-grabbing, me-first divas. Granted they have Justin Beiber wannabe Tom Brady and yes, like Peyton Manning, he makes his receivers and running backs better. But the real reason they win is because everyone buys into the system. Like the Colts, the Patriots success, especially of late, is due to their no nonsense attitude espoused by Bill Belichick. Gone are the flamboyant personalities that Colts fans used to hate. Big time players such as Rodney Harrison, Corey Dillion, Willie McGinest and Randy Moss no longer define the Pats identity. Instead, a bunch of late round draft picks and castoffs have propelled the Pats to a tie for the league's best record.
Without marquee players to key on and stop, game planning can be a nightmare. With so many fresh faces, defenses cant rely on known tendencies and habits to stop players. Nor will shutting down one player suffice. Facing the Patriots fundamentals - a real problem for the Colts defense this season - are the key. The Colts defense was phenomenal last week seizing on miscues and jumping on turnovers. Such an effort won't cut it this week because the Patriots won't give anything away. Turnovers of course will be added bonuses but shedding blocks, taking proper angles to the ball and wrapping up (or at least holding on) will determine the outcome of this game. Melvin Bullit's famous 4th down hit needs to be the inspiration for how to play. Break quickly to be ball, square up and hit them immediately. No over pursuit, no blocked out of the play on screens and no allowing 5 yard routes to turn into 30 yard gains.
Nobody - including Wes Welker - really scares you on paper but they all do their job. It's like going up against a team of office bureaucrats. A team that is boring to watch but they excel at the minor details and can make your life miserable if you don't have your forms filled out perfectly. Dot the I's and cross the T's. Fundamentals not just hustle and heart will be required.
Offensively, its becoming pretty clear that injuries will determine the pace of play and decision making of Peyton Manning. If the Colts are healthy (at least healthier) the Colts offense should hum. While the Patriots play a 3-4 base defense that has traditionally given Manning fits, the defense is a collection of mostly first and second year players who are still inexperienced and a year or two away from their full potentials. In the run-up to the game, how many times have we already heard commentators on ESPN and other networks dish speculation or insight that Devin McCourty "has the chance to be the next Darrelle Revis" or Patrick Chung "will be an elite safety in the future for years to come."
Thankfully for the Colts, the game is in 3 days not 2012. Peyton can worry about how to beat that soon-to-be phenomenal secondary next March, but right now it's a guarantee that he is picking apart the weaknesses of a secondary that currently ranks an atrocious 30th in the league in pass coverage. In fact last year Wayne had 10 catches, 120 yards and 2 touchdowns. As great as Reggie is, don't expect such results again, but if Collie and Tamme can both suit up, Colts fans might be treated to the offensive fireworks we are accustomed to.
Its hard picking against a record 121 wins over the last decade, but then again the Pats have 120 in the same time span. In a series where the last 4 games have all been decided by 4 points or fewer and the last 10 meetings are evenly split, the game will come down to coaching, fundamentals and health. Sunday is not just another game. Sunday sets the course for the rest of the season. Sunday is time to go into Foxboro and make a statement.
Colts 26 - Pats 24.